A Tale of Two Islands

A view from one of Washington’s most iconic state parks, Deception PassWinter is prime time to wander over yonder

Only a few hours north of Seattle, Whidbey and Camano Islands are easy to get to by bridges and ferries. The prime time to visit is winter. Ferry lines fade, and bridge traffic disappears. Just envision storm-watching from a cozy cabin or walking long stretches on quiet beaches. The islands are flanked by the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges and protected by a rain shadow. Annually, Whidbey and Camano Islands get 16 inches less rainfall than Seattle.

Whidbey Island

On the north end sits Deception Pass, the state’s most-visited state park with its picturesque bridge. This is one of seven state parks on the island. Not far is the City of Oak Harbor, the most populated of the island’s three official towns, featuring the largest hotels and historic downtown. The island is steeped in military history and home to NAS Whidbey Island. Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve includes over 17,000 acres and a natural prairie, in a public-private partnership with the National Park Service.

Ebey's boundaries include Coupeville, the state's second oldest town with 64 historic buildings and an old wharf, museum, shops, and restaurants. Often blacktail deer leisurely stroll through Coupeville or the surrounding countryside. Nearby, Fort Casey State Park has bunkers, cannons and Admiralty Head Lighthouse.

On the south end is the quaint town of Langley. Called the “Village by the Sea,” it’s known for a vibrant arts community with galleries, cute shops and cafés. The Whidbey Scenic Isle Way stretches the full length of the island with a number of small communities filled with hidden treasures like bakeries, tasting rooms, and antique shops. Among these are Greenbank, Freeland, Bayview and Clinton.

Camano Island

With no ferries, this laid-back island connects to the mainland by one bridge and there are no formal towns, but rather a few community hubs. Camano Commons Marketplace is a great stop for coffee, shopping and dining. Unspoiled beaches and trails are a real draw to the island. There are many historical attractions such as Kristoferson Farm, which offers ziplines through a forest at Canopy Tours NW. One of two state parks is historic Cama Beach, where the Center for Wooden Boats is located. Once a fishing resort in the 1930s, Cama’s waterfront cabins have been saved and offer a great getaway for families, or anyone seeking only the sound of lapping waves. Populated with talented artists, the island holds a two-weekend Mother’s Day studio tour. Every February, the Great Northwest Glass Quest draws visitors to the ultimate two-week scavenger hunt. Successful “questers” earn gorgeous hand blown glass balls, made by a father and son duo.

Islands are an ideal place to relax

Things to Do

Both islands are filled with beaches, hiking trails, and wildlife, including bald eagles and whales. Dozens of spas offer luxurious rejuvenation. Micro coffee roasters, wineries, distilleries, and breweries flourish. Earth Sanctuary, Meerkerk Gardens and Matzke Sculpture Park are just a few great places to explore. Restaurants feature chefs sourcing fresh food from island farms and the surrounding waters, including Penn Cove Shellfish. The Whidbey Art Trail and Whidbey Island Wine and Spirits Trail offer year round, self-guided tours. Helpful visitor centers are located throughout both islands. Find more attractions, special events, and festivals at whidbeycamanoislands.com.

Places to Stay

Both islands offer plenty of lodgings ranging from historic bed and breakfasts to contemporary hotels. Winter trip planning offers more selection, special packages, greater savings, and increased flexibility. Trusted websites for looking or booking are whidbeycamanoislands.com, whidbeyislandslodging.com, and coupevillelodging.com. A few upscale lodging choices with fine restaurants (two with spas), are the Camano Island Inn, the renovated Captain Whidbey, and the highly-acclaimed Inn at Langley. For those seeking rustic accommodations, Camano Island, Cama Beach and Deception Pass state parks offer cabins, reservable at parks.state.wa.us.